Birding Burnt Mill Road

Patrick, Cyndy (in back), Gary and Jeannie

My birding trip this past weekend reads just like a novel… with goals to be achieved, suspense and uncertainty, good times, and a climatic ending.

I woke two minutes before my alarm was set to go off, groped in the dark for my glasses, and crawled from beneath the covers, shivering as my feet hit the floor. It will be worth it, I told myself. It always is.

Forty minutes later I was on the interstate heading south. The car was loaded with my camera and accessories, scope and tripod, binos, ID books, water lunch, and snacks. The sun, still below the horizon, was just turning the tips of the mountains pink, while the dissipating mist hung like golden glitter in the air. What a beautiful morning!

Reaching our rendezvous point, I joined six other birders as we piled into two cars and headed south again. My primary goal for the day was to enjoy God’s creation and have fun. I was also hoping to take at least one photo I would be happy with. And, there was the possibility of seeing a new bird. While my life list isn’t all that long, I don’t get new birds very often, especially near home. The advertised list of possible species had included a couple I’d never seen, and I was really hoping one would show up.

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What Rot!

compost-piles-pbg-390Making your own compost is a great way to recycle yard waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. It’s the epitome of green gardening, and it’s really not that complicated.

The pile should contain about half fresh, green matter (fresh manures, grass clippings, weeds, kitchen waste) and half dry brown matter (fall leaves, straw, last year’s garden). If the manure you collect locally comes mixed with straw bedding, you already have the perfect combination for compost. Mix the green and brown parts together, or create thin layers.

Shredding your ingredients helps speed decomposition. In Colorado, an unshredded pile may take several years to break down, but it will eventually turn into compost.

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Digging Up Dirt

shoveling-manure-home-plh-sI keep talking about dirt. That is, I seem to have a soil fixation. Perhaps that’s because gardens begin with the soil. Properly prepared soil produces healthier plants, reducing the need for chemical sprays and fertilizer, and making more efficient use of water. Last May I discussed what soil is, and how to amend it. Today I want to expound a bit on the various types of amendments. I’ll also repeat myself a bit. That sort of thing happens as one gets older.

While living along the Front Range has many benefits, our soils are really pretty pitiful. Unless you are content growing a limited number of native plants adapted to this area, you’re going to have to improve on nature. What’s an environmentally responsible gardener to do?

In new plantings, it is worth spending a little time and money for a soil test. Knowing what your soil has, and what it lacks, helps you avoid many time-consuming and expensive mistakes. Follow the test result directions to maximize fertility and soil health. There are natural materials available to raise your levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

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A Birding Poem by Ogden Nash

I loved this poem, and I hope you do too. In fact, I’d recommend you read the entire book, but it appears to be out of print. However, there are collection of Nash’s poetry available, so I’ll recommend you read those instead.

You Can’t Get There from Here

by Ogden Nash

Bird watchers top my honors list.
I aimed to be one, but I missed.
Since I’m both myopic and astigmatic,
My aim turned out to be erratic,
And I, bespectacled and binocular,
Exposed myself to comment jocular.

We don’t need too much birdlore, do we,
To tell a flamingo from a towhee;
Yet I cannot, and never will,
Unless the silly birds stand still.
And there’s no enlightenment in a tour
Of ornithological literature.
Is yon strange creature a common chickadee,
Or a migrant alouette from Picardy?

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Don’t Blame Goldenrod

Goldenrod—Solidago virgaurea

Mention Goldenrod, and most people think of allergies. Yet, this showy, late-summer perennial is receiving a bad rap. The insect-pollinated flowers do not release pollen into the air. It’s ragweed, blooming at the same time, that usually causes any sniffles. Goldenrod, with its fireworks displays of yellow flower clusters, deserves to be much more appreciated.

The hardy plants range from two to four feet tall, depending on cultivar, and look best planted in groups of five or more. They prefer full sun and amended, moist soil, although they can adapt to drier conditions.  The blooms attract butterflies. Try planting goldenrod with other semi-xeric flowers such as Shasta daisies, or purple asters or coneflowers to provide a welcome contrast.

Most garden cultivars are hybrids derived from either our native species or those imported from Europe. Self-sown plants may not come true to form, so flowers should be deadheaded before seeds mature.

Flying Dragons

dragonfly-noxubeenwr-lah_4026Hot August weather. Wetlands, tadpoles, mosquitoes in abundance. Cattails and algae blooms. And of course, dragonflies!

There’s a good reason you find dragonflies near water. The eggs are laid on submerged plants, and hatch into an immature form called nymphs. Nymphs have gills on their posteriors, and use them for both breathing and as jet propulsion. Isn’t nature amazing? Dragonflies live most of their lives as nymphs. Finally, after six months to six years, depending on the species, the nymphs crawl out of the water and metamorphose into the familiar flying adults.

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Green Solutions to Garden Pests

grasshopper-bf-lah-007Oh no! My organic garden is being consumed by organic bugs! Now what do I do?

Green is definitely the color of the decade, and more and more gardeners are turning to organic gardening principles for their landscapes and kitchen gardens. But what do you do when the hordes attack? Just because your harvest is in danger of premature consumption, doesn’t mean you have to abandon all your “green” principles. You are not defenseless!

Before reaching for the sprayer, consider all aspects of the problem. Chemicals, even organic ones, are only one weapon in your arsenal.

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